We finally learned two days ago for a certainty that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will be serving a three-game suspension to start the regular season, a number that was reportedly cut down from four games in a negotiated agreement between the league and the players’ association.
What this means, other than the fact that DeAngelo Williams will for the second straight year be asked to carry the load for the Steelers’ offense in the ground game at the start of the season, is that the battle between third-year running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Daryl Richardson for the third running back spot will continue into the regular season for three games.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has even spoken about the battle that they have on their hands between the two young backs as they vie for stable employment. He said that he wanted to see more explosiveness in the running game from Toussaint, and more detail in special teams work from Richardson, and he happened to get both from them against the Eagles.
Toussaint was originally brought in last season, the second day after the final roster cuts were made. The Steelers could not find a running back from their 90-man roster that they were comfortable carrying on the practice squad, so they signed one from another team. A day later, they cut him and added Toussaint, from the Ravens, instead.
He actually spent the majority of the season on the practice squad before being called up to the 53-man roster a bit past midseason, and after a game or two ascended the depth chart to assume the role of Williams’ backup. When Williams went down in the regular season finale, he started the team’s two postseason games.
Richardson, a former draft pick of the Rams, found some early success in his career, but has been unable to find a 53-man roster for the past two seasons, instead bouncing around on practice squads. He is hoping to get back to contributing on the field with the Steelers after they signed him in February to a Reserve/Future contract.
As it stands, it certainly seems very likely that the Steelers will carry both backs on the initial 53-man roster to start the regular season, during which Bell will, of course, not count against the allotment due to his suspension.
That will give the coaching staff three weeks’ worth of practices and games before Bell has to be reinstated in order to determine with whom they are most comfortable carrying as the third running back on the roster, and you can probably imagine that, as the third option, a lot of that decision will be based on special teams work.
It would seem likely that the Steelers will continue to work both running backs heavily in the special teams department not just in the remainder of the preseason, but in the regular season as well. Even if one gets more snaps on offense, it may be the other who stays on the 53-man roster—assuming one is released to make room for Bell—if he is the more polished special teams contributor.